Valiant battle in Seattle goes Astros' way thanks to Valbuena
By Greg Johns and Brian McTaggart
SEATTLE -- Houston third baseman Luis Valbuena slugged two home runs, including a go-ahead shot in the eighth inning off Seattle reliever Danny Farquhar, and the Astros won their third straight with a 7-5 victory over the Mariners on Monday.
"We showed a lot of character tonight," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I love the way we battled back on both sides. We had a chance to implode when they had a lot of traffic on and we didn't. We tacked on a few runs to tie the game and got a little momentum, and obviously Valbuena came through with some big hits."
Seattle fell to 5-8 despite another big offensive night from Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. Cano went 2-for-4 with two doubles and a walk to extend his hitting streak to seven games. Cruz went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs, and he has a nine-game hitting streak, during which he's batted .474 with eight homers and 16 RBIs.
The Astros (7-6) got solo home runs by Valbuena and Colby Rasmus off Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma, then rallied from a two-run deficit after Iwakuma was pulled with one out in the sixth despite having thrown just 71 pitches. Valbuena's second homer broke a 5-5 tie and capped a three-RBI night for the 29-year-old infielder.
"I tried to backdoor the cutter there and left it over the middle, and he hit it over the fence," said Farquhar, who took his first loss in his past 55 appearances dating back to last May 11.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Middle-of-the-order madness: The Mariners took a two-run lead with a three-run fifth, and once again it was the 3-4-5 combo of Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager doing the damage. Cano led off with a walk, moved to second on an errant pickoff attempt and then scored on Cruz's double to left-center to tie the score at 3. Seager followed with an RBI single for the lead, and he eventually scored on Mike Zunino's sacrifice fly. The trio combined for six hits (including three doubles), two walks, three RBIs and four runs and has totaled 15 hits, 12 RBIs and eight runs in the past two games.
"I don't think that's going to stop," said Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon. "They're very professional and very consistent. We still have guys that are not swinging the bat the way they're capable of swinging it. I think when we start clicking on all cylinders, that will make our offense even a little better."
Bullpen shines again: After rookie Asher Wojciechowski lasted only four innings in his second career start, the Astros' vaunted bullpen pieced together the final five innings. Will Harris was splendid again, throwing 1 2/3 scoreless innings, and lefty Tony Sipp was scoreless for 1 1/3 innings before turning it over to closer Luke Gregerson.
"It's one of those things like winning [being] contagious; successful bullpens kind of feed off each other also," Sipp said. More >
Valbuena stays hot: The veteran third baseman became the first Astros player to hit two homers in a game this season with a solo shot in the first inning and a tiebreaking blast in the eighth. He's taken over the team lead in homers with four in his last four games played, including three in the last two days.
"This last week he's been about as hot as anybody, and he's doing some damage with his swing," Hinch said. "He's played a good third base, he's a good baseball player and I'm glad he's on our club. I love having him around." More >
It's a thin line: Cano ripped two doubles on the night, but just missed his second homer of the season when his third-inning line drive to straightaway center field hit the yellow line atop the fence and stayed in play. Cano started slowly this season by going 3-for-25, but he has batted 13-for-29 with five doubles and one home run over the last seven games to lift his average to .296.
"He has not been sharp. The ball was up again tonight. We've got to figure out a way to get him down in the zone. His fastball command has just not been good as of late." -- McClendon on Iwakuma
"We've got to mix a few singles here and there. We're pretty good at extra-base hits." -- Hinch after his team banged out three doubles and three homers
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Starting pitching continues to be a surprising problem for the Mariners. A rotation expected to be one of the American League's best is 2-5 with a 5.58 ERA after 13 games. Iwakuma gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings and has a 6.61 ERA after three starts. More >
The Mariners successfully challenged a first-inning safe call by umpire C.B. Bucknor on a ground ball by George Springer, who was initially ruled to have beaten the throw by third baseman Seager. But after a 33-second review, the call was overturned for the second out of the inning.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Collin McHugh will start against the Mariners on Tuesday night at Safeco Field nearly a year to the day of his breakout performance. On April 22, 2014, McHugh was called up to replace the injured Scott Feldman and struck out 12 batters in 6 2/3 innings en route to his first Major League win. He's won nine consecutive decisions since Aug. 12 of last year.
Mariners: Right-hander Taijuan Walker is 3-5 with a 4.62 ERA in his young career, and all three wins have come against the Astros (3-0, 2.91 ERA in four starts). After a sensational spring, the 22-year-old was hit hard by the A's and Dodgers in his first two outings and lugs an 0-2 record and 17.18 ERA into Tuesday's middle game of the series vs. the Astros at Safeco.